President Obama spoke last night about what happened in Boston, but the person who really set the tone was comedian Patton Oswalt. A few hours after the tragedy, and before President Obama spoke, he posted the following on his Facebook page:
Before reading his post I was worried, worried that this tragedy would be yet another excuse for America to sink into an abyss of violence and hatred as it did after 9/11. I was so relieved when I saw this pop up on Gawker yesterday afternoon, and to have seen it referenced again and again as people try to make sense of the tragedy.
Shortly after 9/11, President Bush famously framed the tragedy in terms of good vs. evil: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” In his worldview, good and evil were well-matched and in mortal combat. The allegiance of every individual (and nation) mattered in determining the outcome. In Patton’s worldview there is also a contest between good and evil, but good has already won and always will. The contrast is striking.
Oswalt has no position of power, no rank, no Press Secretary, no office. He is just a slightly-better-known citizen who happened to see the tragedy and had a means of easily sharing it with the country and the world. The fact that Americans sought out and amplified (via shares and likes) this optimistic and compassionate view of the Boston tragedy gives me tremendous hope that we can be a better nation. People didn’t choose the frame dictated to them by politicians, they chose the frame offered by a peer, and amplified it.